Ten performances that shook the world: Athletics - Komen comes good aft er a rain omen

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The Independent Online
Sometimes sporting records appear to be as much a product of those who witness as those who perform - they seem almost willed into being.

On the evening of 22 August, 40,000 spectators in the King Baudouin Stadium - re-shaped and renamed from its days as the Heysel - generated an atmosphere of such expectation that if almost gave off a physical charge.

Nine days earlier the athletics followers who had packed into Zurich's Letzigrund stadium had been rewarded with three world records on the track. Now the good people of Brussels wanted their share.

The first serious exercise for their lungs came in the 3,000 metres, where Haile Gebreselassie, Ethiopia's world record holder at 5,000 and 10,000m, was seeking to lower the mark set the previous year by a young Kenyan runner, Daniel Komen.

Gebrselassie failed. An hour later, Komen stepped onto the track with the intention of wresting one of Gebrselassie's records away - the 5,000m record.

For all the obvious talent of this gangling 21-year-old, the objective appeared hugely challenging.

Komen had fallen away behind Gebreselassie in Zurich as the latter had produced a finishing burst which took him through the line in 12min 41.86sec.

Gebreselassie had taken nearly four seconds off the mark he had set himself on the same track two years earlier.

But when Komen took to the track that night in Brussels, he knew two important things. Firstly, his defeat by Gebrselassie had come just three days after he had won the world 5,000m title in Athens, and his long legs had been tired. Secondly, just three days after his Zurich run he had recovered sufficiently to record 3min 29.46sec for 1500m - faster than Seb Coe, Steve Ovett or Steve Cram ever managed.

And something else had happened. Ten minutes before the race, it had rained. Komen took it as a sign from above.

He was taken through to 3,000 metres by the pacemakers. Then he lengthened his loping stride, and suddenly the mortals behind him were sliding backwards.

The crowd began to clap rhythmically. The commentator began to shriek - "Daniel, you need 2.02, you need 2.02 for the last 800. Come on!''

As Komen worked his way down the last 100 metres, his face a grin of effort, the clock seemed to slow in anticipation of his arrival. It stopped at 12min 39.74sec.

"I just knew I was going to break that world record today," Komen said. "It was in the air all night.''

It was one of the great performances; fittingly, it received one of the great receptions.

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